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Posts Tagged ‘age of migration’

I have recently read ‘[Eure] Heimat ist [unser] Albtraum’, a book on the concept of Heimat, or heritage [1] with essays by writers with ‘a migrant background’, as the classification in German has it. It raises many points that we in the heritage and culture sectors must engage with even more than we have done to date, and there are no easy answers. [2]

 

The book’s challenge begins with the title: ‘[Your] heritage is [our] nightmare’, with the words ‘your’ and ‘our’ embossed without colour so that they can only be read at a closer look. The title thus emphasizes both a sense of separatedness and of a threat. That treat emanates from the concept of Heimat, which is contested in Germany, but which in large parts of society enjoys a revival as the feeling of belonging to a place or group [3].

 

The issue, as several essays in the book make clear, is how Heimat is defined and who has access to it. More specifically, it is about who does the defining and the granting of access. The writers argue that it is the dominant (non-migrant) group. It is they who establish a norm and classify people accordingly into those who belong to this Heimat,  and those who do not.

 

Several authors argue that speaking the language fluently, upholding the values of the German constitution, and even holding a German passport does not ensure that people are considered as belonging to the German norm. The examples they cite are numerous: from being constantly asked ‘Where are you from?’ to having their loyalty to the German state questioned [4]. One writer, Mithu Sanyal, also notes that the history of the new Germans [5] is not represented: they are not part of the German Erinnerungskultur, or memory culture, she argues, and thus of those who are remembered and those who do the remembering.

 

Max Czollek adds to this an excellent analysis of the discursive system of representation through which the German norm is established. He argues that it stems from Germany’s desire for normalcy after the Holocaust. In the ensuing narrative, Germany is no longer racist, because it cannot be: to acknowledge racism would end that normalcy the country craves, a normalcy it is too emotionally invested in to give up. Thus is born the Integrationsparadigma, or integration paradigm, he writes, with an all-encompassing expectation for those outside the dominant group to ‘integrate’.

 

Czollek in particular offers a suggestion on how we might move forward. For one, he suggests a focus on Gegenwartsbewältigung, or Coming to Terms with the Present, as opposed to Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or coming to terms with the past. The latter is at the root of the current narrative of German normalcy, he argues, as a focus on the successful (yet equally past) efforts of the country to take responsibility for the Holocaust. Gegenwartsbewältigung, he suggests, would make the country tackle current issues of racism so that the events of the (German) past are not repeated. Furthermore, he suggest ‘an acknowledgement of radical diversity’, which moves beyond classifications and instead acknowledges that contemporary Germany is already “all of the above”. The norm, therefore, is radical diversity.

 

The points raised in this book are a challenge to heritage and wider cultural practice. The easiest part, one might imagine, is to include ‘migrant’ narratives in the stories we tell, and that’s something that we’ve discussed in the sector for years. And yet here we are, with people still telling us that their stories are missing.

 

The book’s essays engage forcefully with the systems of representation that are at work, and I believe it is those very systems that prevent us from radically changing our practice. In Germany, for example, we may indeed, as Mithu Sanyal implies, require a shift in our memory culture. However, as Max Czollek has pointed out, for non-migrant Germans this represents a deeply engrained narrative which to challenge is difficult [6]. And yet, if we are serious about true inclusion and equality, we must do more to understand the underlying dynamic and move beyond it.

 

Both Czollek’s concepts of Gegenwartsbewältigung and radical diversity seem an excellent start, but they require of us a focus away from the past and into the present, away from repeating existing narratives to negotiating new and shared narratives instead. On the surface, that sounds simple. Digging deeper, the waters immediately become murky. In practice, I think we need to start by creating spaces where the representations applied to people are made visible and an open and respectful discussion about those representations can take place.

 

 

Notes

[1] ‘Heimat’ is sometimes translated as ‘home’, but the English word ‘home’ does not by far come close to the multifaceted and highly charged (as well as contested) meaning of the German word ‘Heimat’. ‘Heritage’, in its encompassing senses of origin, inheritance, and belonging to a group or country seems much more appropriate. This also becomes evident in the translation of the book title, which is likely to engender a similar response in English readers when using ‘heritage’ to translate ‘Heimat’, whereas ‘home’ makes the meaning of the title just a little odd but not a real, emotionally charged challenge.

 

[2] The book is written in a German context, and some of it is quite specific to that context. Nevertheless I feel there are points that are relevant beyond Germany’s borders, especially regards the processes of othering and exclusion, and the creation of a strong and shared heritage and culture.

 

[3] The foreword more specifically relates the sense of threat to the Ministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat, or Ministry of the Interior, for Construction and Heritage, which – as ‘Heimatministerium’ – was established in 2018. Of course it didn’t help that the minister in charge immediately proceeded to question whether Islam was part of that German Heimat.

 

[4] As happened with footballer Mesut Özil who, despite being born in Germany, was given a prize for integration and then had his loyalty to the German state questioned because he posed with the Turkish president Erdoğan (the point being also that another footballer, Lothar Matthäus, met Russian president Putin yet his loyalty was not questioned at all – presumably because he is part of the dominant group).

 

[5] This seems a term often used by those ‘with a migrant background’. It seems to offer a real sense of inclusion. And if we must still have a distinction between German people, I’d rather it be ‘old’ and ‘new’. Point is, we’re all Germans.

 

[6] Not just, I would argue, because ‘we’ – and I suppose I must include myself in the non-migrant, dominant group – require validation that we have overcome our country’s horrific actions of the past and have atoned for them. It is also difficult because the discursive boundary to right-wing rejections of the need for remembering, and taking responsibility for the Holocaust seems like such a thin line. (And no, while I am supportive of a widening of our current memory culture I am in no way suggesting that we should forget our responsibility for the Holocaust. See the definition of Gegenwartsbewältigung. And to non-German readers: me feeling the need to add that illustrates the difficulty.)

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Next month, I will represent ICOMOS ICIP at the Voices of Culture Structured Dialogue on the Inclusion of Refugees and Migrants through Culture. In preparation, the organisers have posed three questions [1] for each participant network to respond to. As I collated the response from ICIP’s network, it’s been really interesting to revisit the various initiatives and writings I’ve come across over recent months, and read through what colleagues sent me. I’d like to share some of the thoughts and questions that have come up for me personally during this process [2].

 

Migrant doesn’t equal migrant

The term really is too often used to cover what are vastly different motivations for and experiences of migration. These groups cannot be lumped together. That they all ‘live away from their country of origin’ no more predicts their needs and desires than does having red hair for British people. It may seem a convenient segmentation, but it neither reflects reality, nor does it provide a helpful framework for thinking about migration and its demands on our professional heritage practices.

 

Living in an ‘Age of Migration’

The MeLa project spoke of an ‘age of migration’, and its final report notes that although migrations have always taken place, ‘due to improved possibilities for physical and virtual movement today they have grown in quantity, rapidity and complexity’ (p. 8). Migration today is constant, fluid and global, and it seems to me that this in particular necessitates a more differentiated understanding of, and thus professional response to, the specific type of migration we want to work with, if indeed we continue with this targeted practice at all [3]. But there are other questions too that arise from the idea of an age of migration:

 

Heritage Assimilation?

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) in their publication Towards the Integration of Refugees in Europe (2005) notes that historically, states used a ‘strategy of assimilation’ regards third country nationals (p. 14). Through assimilation, ‘refugees’ values and norms would be substituted with values and beliefs of the host society’ (ibid). I wonder if many of our current professional heritage practices regards people from third countries are rooted in concepts of assimilation. In other words, as we offer guided tours for refugees and programmes where they can learn more about ‘our’, the ‘host’ country’s history and heritage, are we in danger of creating structures that ask newcomers to adopt this heritage and make it their own? [4] Is this also at the core of the following:

 

Fighting for resources

I read the suggestion in an article [5] that migrated groups are ‘in competition’ for representation in museums. Heritage here emerges as distinct parcels belonging to distinct groups, that my heritage isn’t your heritage, and if my heritage is represented that means yours isn’t. And of course to some extent that is how heritage works; scores of writers have noted the exclusive nature of heritage [6]. But could this also be more than a question of representation? Could this be the result of an ultimately assimilatory understanding of heritage, and one that becomes increasingly problematic in an age of migration: the idea that the ‘host’ heritage should and will stay the same, with newcomers expected to either buy into it or create their own, separate heritage in this new place? How would this all change if we adopted a different view of heritage altogether?

 

Heritage Integration?

The ECRE writes that integration (as opposed to assimiliation) is a ‘dynamic two-way process’ (see above, p. 14) that requires of both sides action and adjustment. What could integration mean then for heritage, and consequently professional heritage management? Would this be a kind of give and take between ‘old’ residents and ‘new’ residents, whereby they create a new, shared heritage, in which some common elements remain, and others change? While professional practices may necessarily have to start off with showing what heritage in the host society is like at the moment of arrival, do we then need practices that adapt and change as new heritage is created once refugees become settled?

 

The Integration of Refugees and Migrants through Cultural Heritage (Management) Practices

I suppose what I’m grappling with in all of the above – and I am not suggesting I have any answers here – is my deep dissatisfaction with current professional practices that compartmentalise and historicise migration and create a ‘migrant’ heritage that, while possibly represented, forever remains separate. If we are indeed in an age of migration (and I think we are) then this is not a sustainable path forward. Telling a balanced story, or ‘polyvocality’, as MeLa calls it (p. 25), is still in my view the best approach in interpretation to show all aspects of heritage, but this is not about inclusion, or more specifically integration, this is primarily about representation. To arrive at integration, we might need more – but that’s the part I’m not sure about yet. Thoughts welcome.

 

Notes

[1]

  • Question One: Which 5 recent initiatives in Europe (or elsewhere) best demonstrate the successful role of culture in promoting the inclusion of refugees and migrants? What have been the key success factors in these initiatives?
  • Question Two: What are the best ways to organize cultural activities to promote the inclusion of refugees and migrants – immediately on arrival (first six months), and in the longer term (after six months – the normal time limit for asylum procedures in the EU)?
  • Question Three: What are the 5 strongest arguments which can be made by civil society, on why and how to use culture to promote the integration of migrants and refugees? How should these arguments be framed, to justify investment in culture?

[2] This is very much one of these posts where I’m putting my thoughts out there to make sense of them. I’m fairly new to reading migration studies and migration/museum research, so bear with me and do point me to stuff you think I should consider.

[3] Although I would again argue against any segmentation on the basis of one attribute. Incidentally, so does MeLa’s report (p. 50).

[3] I want to quickly, and emphatically, add that I am not in the least devaluing those activities. Refugees in particular appear to find these very offers, of learning about the existing history and heritage in their new home, very helpful and important. It seems to be a way of familiarising themselves with this new place, to make sense of it, before they can even enter the phase where they can add their own heritages. I’m also intrigued by mapping projects, and tours that are guided by refugees, all of which actually may go a long way toward creating a new, integrated heritage, through connection to place.

[4] Small, S., 2011. ‘Slavery, Colonialism and Museums Representations in Great Britain: Old and New Circuits of Migration.’ In: Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge 9(4), pp. 117-128, p. 125

[5] See for example Waterton, E. 2010. Politics, Policy and the Discourses of Heritage in Britain. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 9.

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